CADILLAC — Up North Arts has re-opened for the summer with a new Children's Center. Kids from preschool ages to teens will be able to participate in a variety of art classes, including clay, photography and fused glass.

The idea for the Children's Center came together when Up North Arts President Tim Florinki saw the need for a designated kids program.

"We applied for a number of different grants for the center, and we kept getting turned down and we didn't know why, and they said, 'well, you don't have a designated children's program,'" Florinki said. "So I said, 'Oh,' so let's start there."

Art classes for kids was something that Up North Arts had always wanted to include. Summer camps have been offered in previous years, but children's involvement in general has been minimal.

The process began with negotiations between the city and Up North Arts for the Children's Center rooms. Once those were secured, it was up to donations and fundraisers to fill the room with furniture and purchase supplies.

Some major donators include the Cadillac Area Community Foundation, 100 Women Who Care, Avon Protection Systems Inc. and the Cadillac Area Arts Council, but Florinki said there are many others. 

Creating a community with strong artistic and cultural ties could bring more visitors to the Cadillac area, in Florinki's opinion. He said the kids programs would encourage people to come and raise families here.

"When you bring your child to an area, you want to know that they can keep busy. There's something to do other than sitting on the phone," Florinki said. "If we offer enough diversity in our programs that could benefit a child's learning ability, because dexterity comes from doing things like crafting, like painting, like sketching."

Most of the current classes available at Up North Arts are being expanded to include kids. Painting, pottery, fused glass and bead stringing will be available this summer for a multitude of ages. A free creative writing course is being offered as well, along with other free classes for kids.

"We can offer a lot of different children's classes free, which we'll do," Florinki said. "We will have some paid classes, but the people coming to these classes and paying for them help pay for some of the free classes for the kids."

As more donations and program support are provided, Up North Arts will be able to add more free classes

In the past, Up North Arts has given ukelele and violin lessons, and have recently had a piano donated. Music education is an expansion that Florinki and his staff have wanted to provide for people of all ages, but there is a struggle to find volunteers and teachers.

There were previously 85 volunteers working with Up North Arts, and that number has since depleted to 10, not counting the board members. The pandemic is likely the cause of the shortage.

"I think COVID was a result of some of that, and because so many of our volunteers were older, they were the most affected by COVID, so they weren't ready to come," Florinki said. "Some of them are still hesitant."

After school programs is one of Florinki's goals for the fall. He said Up North Arts has partnered with Cadillac Public Schools to start planning.

"We're trying to get some of those kids not able to go to school last year, maybe into some of our classes after school," Florinki said.

Getting groups of kids together who can bond and become friends through art is the goal of the program.

Summer 2021 classes are open for registration. Those interested in signing up or volunteering can go to upnorthartsinc.com.